Facebook Pixel Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I - The Tools

Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I – The Tools

Makeup! Before I took photographs (and as a guy), I rarely used or had to use makeup, so I had very limited personal experience with it. That being said, I have taken portrait photographs of beautiful women that have been professionally made up, and I can honestly say it really makes a difference through the lens of a camera.

The best makeup is always barely noticeable – you only focus on the subject. It is truly a skill to do makeup well. Getting a good makeup artist to help with your portraits will always make the images better. However, in many cases, a makeup artist is not available, so the next best thing is to do it yourself to help deal with specific issues and get better results.

Image: Made up Model

Made up Model

Best results

For the best portrait shooting results, you want subjects that are well rested and healthy. You also want interesting locations, great lighting, and skill behind the camera.

Although the last three are things you have control over, you generally have limited control over your subjects.

Other than suggesting your subjects be well hydrated and rested, there is little you can do to change your given subjects. Makeup can help improve the overall appearance of your subject by balancing skin tones, correcting most skin imperfections and even change the perceived shape of a subject’s face.

Well-applied makeup will also boost the effects of good lighting and minimize retouching.

Image: Same model different makeup

Same model different makeup

Nothing new

Fashion and glamour photographers have long known the benefits of makeup and often employ a makeup artist on their sets. Most portrait photographers don’t have the budget or benefit of a makeup artist on location particularly if you are only doing one or two portraits.

Usually, the portrait photographer is working with the makeup that the subject shows up with (or lack thereof).

Any corrections are often done in post-production to deal with shine, blotchy skin, and uneven skin tones.

However, with a few makeup items supplied and a bit of practice, any photographer can develop enough skill to apply basic makeup and improve a portrait straight out of the camera (SOOC).

All subjects benefit from a little makeup (female, male and other), as long as they are human.

Image: Even males benefit from a little makeup

Even males benefit from a little makeup

Basic requirements

Let’s consider the basics of a useful makeup kit, simple application techniques, and hygiene requirements.  Makeup artists will spend lots of money on equipping their kits, but you only need a few items to apply simple makeup before a portrait session.

There are, however, two important things you need to consider before putting together your own makeup kit.

Image: Makeup will make many women feel special

Makeup will make many women feel special

First, poor quality products generate poor results. You don’t need to purchase the very best products but getting cosmetics from a reputable makeup store, a cosmetics counter at a department store or a pharmacy with a larger cosmetics section will produce better results. You can purchase online, but it is best if you know what you are getting.

As a male photographer purchasing cosmetics, be prepared for comments from some stores about getting stuff for your wife or girlfriend mostly because men buying makeup is less common.

Image: Men will often be unaccustomed with makeup

Men will often be unaccustomed with makeup

Secondly, people are becoming more considerate of products that have fewer animal byproducts and are free of animal testing. Most people do not want weird stuff on their faces, and you will want to be respectful of people’s wishes.

Brushes and applicators

Ideally, you should have three brushes – a face brush, blush or powder brush, and a concealer brush. Brushes need to be soft durable and able to be easily cleaned. Generally, it is a good practice to purchase good quality synthetic brushes. Always ensure that the larger brushes are very soft and pliable.

Image: Brushes and Applicators

Brushes and Applicators

The face brush is the largest and fluffiest of all the makeup brushes. They are often about 2 inches wide with bristles curves into a rounded shape.  The blush or powder brush is a medium-sized soft brush that is about 1 inch wide with curved edges. The third brush is a concealer or lip brush which is small, about 0.25 to 0.5 inches wide with tapered ends.

In addition to brushes, wedge-shaped disposable sponges are handy for all sorts of things. Cotton swabs are indispensable but buy a brand name because inexpensive bands tend to cause more of a mess than they clean up. Disposable hand towels (thicker than paper towels) are useful for cleaning up. Finally, blotting film or facial blotting paper is the last disposable item you need for a brush/applicator.

The cosmetics

Although there is a lot of makeup out there, this kit is not intended to replace a makeup artist, it is just to help you, so you can get away with a surprisingly small collection of cosmetics to pull it together. There may be additional things but start with the basics.

Image: Cosmetics


Translucent loose-setting powder will have a very light skin tone color in the jar but applies neutrally on almost all skin tones. These powders are often mineral based.

Concealer is an inexpensive staple for any makeup kit. You can get smaller collections, but often you can get a wheel or concealer palette that has multiple colors to adjust for skin tones.

Blush or bronzer is used to give the cheeks a little color and make you look a little suntanned as well.

Rice powder is a very fine, light, loose white or very pale powder use for absorbing excess oils and highlighting features. It should almost be invisible and is not expensive.

Lip gloss can be super simple and does not need to be a bold color. Just a simple stick of clear lip gloss or slightly tinted balms will do the job.

Image: Great results straight out of the camera

Great results straight out of the camera

Cleaning and sanitizing products

For non-makeup people, the importance of cleaning up hands, brushes, and cosmetics cannot be understated. You really need to keep everything clean, particularly if you intend to use the makeup for more than one person (but even then you need to clean up your brushes).

Key staples are hand sanitizer, a brush cleaner (baby shampoo will do), and a cosmetic sanitizer. Use unscented hand sanitizer to keep your hands clean before and after every makeup application.

The brush cleaner is essential to keep the brushes functional. Finally, the cosmetic sanitizer gets applied to the cosmetics after use. Isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle works but tends to discolor the makeup with repeated use. It is best to get a proper sanitizing mister made especially for cosmetic products.

Makeup as an art

Applying makeup takes skill. To become skilled, you need to practice. Before you start applying makeup to a paying subject, you need to practice on someone who doesn’t mind you practicing on them. There is a reason why makeup artists are paid well for their work. It is hard, and they make it look easy.

Image: Couples will enjoy it too

Couples will enjoy it too

Conclusion of Part I

With all this equipment you are ready to help your clients look better for their portraits. In part 2, we cover the techniques and basic skills to apply makeup to your clients. The intent is not to make you a makeup artist, but to help smooth features and improve the look of your portraits straight out of the camera. That way, you don’t have to spend a lot of time post-processing your images.

Image: It doesn’t replace a true makeup artist’s work

It doesn’t replace a true makeup artist’s work


Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I - The Tools

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Mark C Hughes
Mark C Hughes

is a photographer, writer, educator, and engineer that specializes in both portraits of people and pets but also creates stunning landscape and nature photography. He’s an accredited professional photographer (PPOC) and has won awards, including one from National Geographic. Mark has exhibited works and has testified as an expert witness in a trial as a photographer. He has taught photography for a variety of groups and skill sets.

I need help with...